Sunday, December 20, 2015

'Yong-Pal' Has Great Character Arcs and an Intriguingly Intricate Plot

Yong-Pal would be the last Koreanovela I’ve watched this year.  2015 is near its end, and there just isn’t enough time to watch one more, and there’s no Koreanovela that I feel is worth squeezing in to binge-watch.  The next Koreanovela that I’ll be watching is something that’ll be running next year.

Yong-pal tells the story of Dr. Kim Tae-hyun (Joo Won), a very talented surgeon on his third year of residency.  He is desperately in need of money to pay for his ailing sister’s medical bills, thus, he is compelled to secretly work as a mercenary doctor for the criminal underworld, adopting the code name “Yong-pal."  As his sister’s condition worsen, Dr. Kim finds himself seeking larger sources of income, which leads him to be coerced by the corrupt doctors of the hospital to partake in a shocking conspiracy: locked in a well-guarded private room in the hospital’s exclusive 12th floor and forcibly put in a medically induced coma is Han Yeo-jin (Kim Tae-hee), chaebol heiress to the powerful conglomerate that owns the hospital.

What ensues next is an absorbing romantic story complicated by the intricate corporate power play that it finds itself in the middle of.

I find this drama series unique.  It avoids many of the clichés that I’ve constantly noticed in Koreanovelas, and employs a couple of elements that I’ve only seen for the first time in a Koreanovela.  The premise seemingly starts off as a medical thriller but then evolves into something wonderfully complex that, though not thoroughly intelligent and sometimes too convoluted for its own good, it’s intellectually satisfying.

Also, its romantic aspect is probably the most I’ve enjoyed since I Hear Your Voice (my ultimate Koreanovela standard).  Tae-hyun and Yeo-jin are both interestingly flawed characters struggling to make it work between them.  There’s something melodramatic about it sometimes, but generally, the development is organic and well-executed.  Thus, these two are my most favorite Koreanovela couple next to IHYV’s Soo-ha and Hye-sung.  And just like the IHYV couple, they aren’t just a charming couple with great chemistry, but they’re also well-written characters individually.

But that’s just the thing about Yong-pal: its characters are so well-written!  My most favorite thing about this series is its intriguing, multi-layered character arcs – not only for Tae-hyun and Yeo-jin, but for most of the characters.   These characters are coated with personality, fleshed out in depth, and developed fascinatingly well that I was compelled to get invested on them.  It’s also a big plus that the acting is so, so good (most notably, the actor that played Min Joon-gook in IHYV, Jung Woong-in, also has a role here; his performance convinced me that he’s absolutely one of Korea’s best character actors).

So, Yong-pal makes for incredible watching – for the first 17 episodes.  I was on the way of declaring that I “love” this drama series, but the final episode kind of derailed the series for me.  I really find it to be underwhelming and unsatisfying.  I guess the first 17 episodes had put me on so much high that I was expecting for a massively phenomenal finale that would make me emotionally euphoric.    And, thus, so tall was the pedestal that I had prepared, that when the finale failed to meet it, the fall was great.

That said, all in all, Yong-pal is very entertaining and fresh.  I’m really disappointed with the ending, but it’s actually not that bad – just insufficient to the standards it has set.  Still, I enjoyed it much that it’s tied with Kill Me, Heal Me as my most favorite Koreanovela of 2015.    

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